A couple of weeks ago, I went to Ladies of Britain at the Southbank Centre: a brilliant “evening of work entirely dedicated to women in hip-hop” that started out with a dance battle.
I’d never seen a dance battle in real life before, but it turned out to be, and I realise this sounds an awful lot like missing the point, a really immaculately designed resource-management game.
It worked like this:
- Eight dancers took part, in successive one-on-one battles
- Each individual battle involved Dancer A dancing for a minute, then Dancer B, then Dancer A again, and then Dancer B again
- Three judges would simultaneously point to the dancer they thought had won, or cross their arms if they couldn’t decide
- If it was a tie, there would then be another minute’s dancing from Dancer A, and another from Dancer B. then another vote from the judges
- Then this repeated with a semi-final round (with the four winners of the initial battles), then a final
So, let’s call the two resources being managed here moves and energy: things the dancers could do, and the energy to do them with. In each battle, there were conflicting aims:
- Make sure you impress the judges enough to win;
- Make sure you have enough energy left to dance for another minute if it goes to a tie-break;
- Make sure you have enough moves left that you have something unexpected to do in the next round, if you get through.
Alongside this basic structure and conflicting-aims resource management, there were constant tiny fillips: for example one of the dancers made a habit of emulating her opponents’ moves during her opponents’ dances, burning her own resources in order to decrease the effectiveness with which her opponents’ were deployed.
We’ve been thinking more and more, lately, about what makes some games fun to watch, and how game design can create or support spectacle. This was a perfect example: a game design robust enough that it would work even without the spectacle, just as a card game; dancing amazing enough that it would have been fun to watch even without the competition element; and the two parts fitting together seamlessly, each supporting the other.
Picture by Sekundo.